Best Tactics for Dealing with Spam

Commercial email” is any email whose primary purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service, including content on a Web site, an order confirmation, or a periodical subscription. “Spam” is “unwanted” or “unsolicited commercial email” (UCE).

The CAN SPAM Act outlined proper business practices for commercial email senders. Last week in my article, Spammers Get Canned, I listed these requirements, but today I would like to discuss them from a recipients viewpoint. To illustrate this point I will use an email message that I received just last week. You may have received the same message I did.

My Name is Shaye, and I am located in the State of New York.

I am an online Travel Agent, and would like to share my weekly news letters with you. Please feel free to check out my website and see all the different things we offer, other then just the basics of travel.

[web site address removed]

Somehow I received your email, and thought I would ask your permission to add you to my Email List. If you wish to be added to this List, just hit reply and tell me your name, and email address that you want it sent to.

If you don’t want to be added to this List, just hit reply and tell me no thanks. No hard feelings.

If you know of anyone who might be interested in this website and or this news letter, please email me and let me know.

My advertising is word of mouth, so the more the merrier.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line via email [address removed].

Shaye

Regardless of whether or not I know Shaye or his company, this message is commercial because he is promoting his travel agency and web site, and he has violated several provisions of the CAN SPAM Act: he fails to fully identify himself or his company, and he doesn’t provide a postal address. All violations of the CAN SPAM Act. Additionally, most companies would state how they acquired my email address, but Shaye only says, “Somehow I received your email”.

Sorry, Shaye, not good enough. You’ve become eligible for an $11,000 fine from the FTC.

What Should I Do?

Should I delete Shaye’s message? Many people would just grumble and delete the email message, but that doesn’t mean Shaye won’t try to contact me or someone else again, and I don’t want to hear from Shaye again.

Shaye clearly violated the CAN SPAM Act, and there’s no telling how many others he has sent this message to. Some of those people might even be friends of mine. Shaye could get a fine of $250 for each email he sends out, but only if he is reported, charged, and convicted.

Where can I report Shay? There are a variety of places I could report Shaye to simply by clicking Forward on his message instead of delete:

  1. The Federal Trade Commission: The FTC keeps a database of unsolicited emails that can be used by law enforcement (State and Federal Agencies, etc.) to pursue action against spammers. To add Shaye’s email, I just click “Forward” on his message, and address it to spam@uce.gov.
  2. Shaye’s Internet Provider: Shaye had an email account, as his email ended with @aol.com. I can forward his message to abuse@aol.com, and let them know what one of their members is up to.
  3. My Internet Provider: I can also Forward a copy to abuse@ whoever my email provider may be. If I use Yahoo, it would be abuse@yahoo.com. If I use Optimum Online, it would be abuse@optonline.net. If I use Verizon, it would be abuse@verizon.net.

Should I take Shaye up on his offer to reply and say “No Thanks”? I could do that. According to the CAN SPAM Act, Shaye would then have 10 business days to remove me from his list. If my email reply comes back as undeliverable, then Shaye has violated CAN SPAM again. That’s another $11,000 fine from the FTC, Shaye. If my reply doesn’t come back, and after 3 business days I get another email from Shaye; that’s another $11,000 fine. (Note: The original law gave senders 10 business days to remove an email address from their mailing list, as of July 7, 2008, the law requires an address be removed within 3 business days.)

What I Did Do

I took another acceptable response toward Shaye’s message. I contacted the company Shaye claimed to represent. I wanted to see if the site he was promoting was legitimate, or if he was trying to send me to some other site instead. If the address in the address bar at the top of my browser differed from the one he sent me, there was another possible $11,000 fine for Shaye for misleading information.

I went to the web site he was promoting, and it appeared to be a legitimate travel web site, but there was no mention of anyone named “Shaye” on the site. Nor was there a mention of a “New York Agent” as Shaye claimed to be. In fact, the address on the site was for a company based in Illinois. They struck me as the type of company that would take a CAN SPAM violation seriously.

Perhaps Shaye wasn’t associated with this company at all? Maybe he didn’t know the CAN SPAM requirements? Maybe he did, but didn’t care?

Next I checked out the company’s “Privacy Policy” link at the bottom of the web page. (Thanks to a California law passed in 2004, commercial web sites are required to post a conspicuous privacy policy link.) The terms of the privacy policy can be legally enforced and challenged. Under their privacy policy I found some useful information:

  • The company does get email addresses from partner companies.
  • They will not sell or share my personal information with third parties, but only with their agents.
  • They provide unsubscribe links in their emails. (Shaye didn’t.)
  • “If you have received unwanted, unsolicited email sent via this system or purporting to be sent via this system, please forward a copy of that email with your comments to us for review”

Bingo! That last point included an “abuse” email address I could write to. I forwarded Shaye’s email to that address.

What Happened Next?

This Monday morning I received an email from the company that Shaye claimed to represent. It came from a representative of the “Legal Support and Compliance Department”. I checked the “From” part of the email message, it clearly showed the email address was from the same .com address as the travel web site I had seen. The email also showed that they had sent a copy “To:” the same aol.com email address Shaye had contacted me through. I could also see that they were courteous enough not to include my email address, so Shaye wouldn’t know who had reported him. They also included a copy of the email message Shaye had sent me.

Here’s what they had to say to Shaye. I have altered portions —enclosed in parentheses— to protect the innocent.

Shaye:

(Our company) has recently received allegations that you are sending Spam email to YTB agents and prospects (Please see email below). (Our company) takes Spam solicitation very seriously and we wanted to contact you to get this matter resolved.

Spam email can be subject to an $11,000 penalty per email according to the Federal Can Spam Act. You can find further information about these penalties by visiting the following site: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/canspam.shtm

In order to send solicitations correctly you first need to review your contact list. This list should contain contact information for those to whom you know or who have requested information from you about (our) opportunities. Also, please included in each email you send an opt-out option so those who receive your email can opt-out at any time if they no longer wish to be contacted. (Our company) understands that this allegation could be a simple mistake on your part or the person you contacted did in fact give you their contact information but has forgotten. The opt-out option should satisfy those who receive your email but no longer wish to be solicited for the (our company’s) opportunity.

I was happy with the results. The company appeared reputable, and they were courteous enough to let me know that they took action, and that they try to keep their agents and representatives informed of proper business practices. It was also clear from their email that I wasn’t the only person who complained to them.

If You Receive Spam: “Don’t Just Delete It, Report It”

Your best response is to forward the message to the FTC at spam@uce.gov and to your Internet email provider at their abuse@ email address. (For Yahoo, it would be abuse@yahoo.com; for Verizon, it would be abuse@verizon.net; etc.)

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